PARIS – Michael Lonsdale, an enigmatic giant of the silver screen and theater in France who worked with some of the world’s top directors in an acting career that spanned 60 years, died Monday at 89, his agent said.
From his role as the villain in the 1979 James Bond film “Moonraker” to that of a French monk in Algeria in the 2011 movie “Of Gods and Men,” Lonsdale acted, often in brilliant supporting roles, under top directors including Orson Welles, Steven Spielberg, Francois Truffaut and Louis Malle.
The child of a French mother and a British father, Lonsdale had a soft but malleable voice and in later years a grisly long beard. He was a man consumed by his art. Lonsdale made more than 100 films and performed as much on stage, where he started his career. His final performance was in a short film last year for the Opera of Paris, “Degas et Moi” ("Degas and Me").
Lonsdale died peacefully at his Paris home of old age, his agent of 20 years, Olivier Loiseau, told The Associated Press.
“It was kind of expected," said Loiseau of the Aartis agency, who recently spoke with Lonsdale by phone. “His spirit was alive but his body was tired.”
Lonsdale was a man of faith and played numerous roles reflecting his Christian beliefs. He was Brother Luc, a monk in the real-life drama “Of Gods and Men,” destined to die with fellow monks at the hands of Islamist extremists. He also played a priest in Welles’ 1962 film “The Trial.”
Xavier Beauvois' “Of Gods and Men” earned Lonsdale a Cesar, France's equivalent of an Oscar, for best supporting role.
Lonsdale made numerous films with New Wave director Jean-Pierre Mocky, the last in 2013, “Le Renard Jaune” ("The Yellow Fox").
Other recent films include Manoel de Oliveira's “Gebo and the Shadow,” in 2012. His last full-length feature was in 2015, “Les Premiers Les Derniers” ("The First, the Last") directed by Bouli Lanners.
Born May 24, 1931, Lonsdale was introduced to the cinema and a passion for life in Casablanca, Morocco, where he spent a decade of his young life with his mother and father. He said American GIs posted there during World War II gave him candy, gum and free visits to the movies they showed. He told French journalists that he was blown away by the movies and the industry became his dream.
Returning to Paris in 1947, a Russian theater teacher taught him that actors must also show they can be mean. He threw a chair across the room and broke it.
Lonsdale remained an enigmatic character despite his public visibility, never truly comfortable in the often clubby actor's milieu. The newspaper Le Monde quoted him as saying that "I feel sometimes so out of it ... to the point of feeling very uncomfortable.''
The French daily Le Parisien quotes him as saying in 2016 that he had no anxiety about dying. “I give myself a reason. It’s life.”
Lonsdale never married and had no children. Funeral arrangements were not immediately known.